Military-sponsored film about Deep South ignores truth about conflict, is way too cheesy
Submitted on Mon, 27 Jul 2015 - 09:00 AM
Asaree Thaitrakulpanich and Thaweeporn Kummetha
We just need faith, and soon everything will be back to normal, like it was before.
Near the end of Latitude No. 6, a music video montage of the main characters overlaid with this song suddenly jumps out at the audience. This song from Latitude No. 6, a film sponsored by the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), could have been written by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. Of course, the NCPO song explicitly asked for faith in the military, while Latitude No. 6 attempts to be more subtle in its message by over-cloying it with unimpressive romantic plots.
Director Thanadol Nualsuth collaborated with UCI Media to produce Latitude No. 6. In it, a half-white Bangkokian (Peter Corp Dyrendal) goes to Patani with his niece (Shinardi Anupongpichak) because of his job at the Islamic Bank of Thailand. He falls in love with a Muslim woman (Prissana Kumpusiri), daughter of a Muslim teacher. Meanwhile, a teenage love triangle develops between a Buddhist girl (Weeraporn Jirawechsuntorngul) and two Muslim boys (Natcha Jantapan, Pakin Buansirilak). This subplot turns out much less interesting than it sounds.
Just three days before the film’s premiere on June 26, Dyrendal’s wife posted a plea on Instagram, asking her husband to come home after he had run off with another woman. The public expressed outrage at this, some pledging to boycott Latitude No. 6. In response, a deputy director of ISOC expressed concern that the scandal of Peter’s promiscuity would affect filmgoers’ perception of “unity” in the film. Wow, another “national unity” propaganda film! We haven’t seen that before!
Even with on-site filming in Pattani, Latitude No. 6 is problematic because it fails to accurately address the root of the violence in the Deep South. Instead, it relegates the conflict to an ever-present, random bomb threat that affects both Muslims and Buddhists. In this respect, at least, it is a step forward from the Thai mainstream media’s portrayals of mustachioed Muslim Malay “bandits” as being the only perpetrators of violence.
However, the absence of negatively-stereotyped Muslims and the portrayal of insurgents as faceless do not excuse the fact that the military, another trouble-maker in the Deep South, is shown in purely positive terms.
The soldiers in the film are jolly men who find lost children, visit wounded bomb victims, sacrifice their lives defusing a bomb, patrol for the safety of villagers, exchange jokes with locals, and help construct a mosque. The human rights crimes committed by the Thai military and discrimination by the Thai state are definitely not addressed in the film.
The film misrepresents the conflict as religious and ignores the actual cause which is the struggle of the Patani people under the rule of Siam. It tells the audience that yes, love and friendship cross religious lines. It also shows the very barest elements of Malay culture. In many respects, Latitude No. 6 is a flimsy travel brochure full of doctored photos
As with other Thai movies, we can expect that the supposedly Muslim Malay characters in Latitude No.6 will not be played by Malay-looking actors, and therefore cannot speak the local Malay dialect in the film. Even worse, some of the Muslim characters speak Thai in a southern dialect, aka thong daeng. This shows that the filmmakers didn’t spend long enough time with Malay people to learn that if the Muslim Malay want to speak Thai, they speak it like Bangkok people.
The lack of local representation is reminiscent of mid-century Westerns, where both cowboys and “Indians” were played by white actors and actresses, and the real issues of the “frontier” were pushed aside for shallow displays aimed at portraying different cultures as a spectacle.
However, Latitude No. 6 does address the irrational fear of Thais from outside the region towards the area. In one scene the main character mistakenly assumes a Muslim man’s wooden box is a bomb, and dives for cover. The box is actually a violin case.
Latitude No. 6 does an impersonation of a warm, feeling movie, but is actually as unfeeling and callous as the title itself. To the filmmaker, Latitude No. 6 is just a line on a map, that when sliced, offers some pretty shots. Pretty shots are as deep as it goes, and the truth about the conflict is just covered up with 120 minutes of cringe-worthy, cheesy fluff and cardboard dialogue.
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